We’re certainly entering the final stretch of the presidential election, and I find myself thinking (wishing) about all the reforms I want for student loan borrowers, regardless of who wins. President Obama has certainly done somepositive things for student loan borrowers during his term, but these initiatives largely just nibble around the edges of the problem. We need much more comprehensive reform. At the same time, Governor Romney has put forth no specific policy proposals about how he would address the student loan debt problems in this country. Well, here are a few things I’d like to see.
- Restore bankruptcy protections for student loans. Right now, most people are unable to discharge their student loans in bankruptcy, which makes student loan debt different from almost any other type of consumer debt. Like a chronic illness with no cure, those student loans will cripple you forever. There’s a bill in Congress to change this. Pass it!
- Provide relief to private student loan borrowers. Private student loans stink because all the great programs that exist to help student loan borrowers are only applicable to federal loans. Private student loans are, in my opinion, worse than any other type of consumer debt. There’s a bill in Congress that would extend federal student loan benefits to private student loans. Pass it!
- Fix the U.S. Department of Education. As I discussed in detail in my recent article, the U.S. Dept. of Ed is a dysfunctional disaster. Even for those who are in good standing and are trying to do the right thing by paying back their loans efficiently, this agency repeatedly fails borrowers simply because of its inability to provide adequate services. Fix it!
- Extend “Improved IBR” to all borrowers. President Obama recently accelerated “improved IBR” for new borrowers, which will allow for lower payments on federal loans based on income, as well as a shorter repayment period before forgiveness kicks in. I see no reason why we should be discriminating against pre-existing borrowers. Extend improved IBR to everyone.
- Address Insane Tuition Hikes. Underlying the explosion of student loan debt in this country is the obscene levels of tuition, which have increased at astronomical rates over the past two decades. This needs to stop, and we need some bold and creative solutions. Provide incentives for schools that lower tuition; withdraw federal aid for schools that raise tuition without meeting core employment benchmarks; encourage cheaper educational programs; and create apprenticeship tracks that provide students with real-world experience and can serve as an alternative to the traditional college degree model.